IronWatcher’s review published on Letterboxd:
Watched in the cinema (38th visit in 2022)
It is not exactly a secret that Sean Baker has a soft spot for people with not quite everyday lives who live somewhere on the fringes of society. "The Florida Project", for example, was set in a motel where all those are stranded who know nothing better to do with their lives and are always plodding along on the edge of subsistence. In "Red Rocket" he deals with the subject of porn films. He takes the perspective of a man who works in this field.
In fact, the theme of porn is present several times in the film. Not only has Mikey (Simon Rex) made some himself in the past, he also wants to help Strawberry (Suzanna Son) to have her own career in the field. But it is not a film about porn. Unlike "Pleasure", which I recently reviewed, which relentlessly and with often not overly flattering means shows what it means to work in this field, this is only one aspect. "Red Rocket" is also the much friendlier and brighter film, which is largely due to the protagonist. He is a classic sunny boy who doesn't let anything get him down. The fact that he can't get anything together himself is relatively unimportant to him. He is so optimistic and full of dreams that the less dreamlike reality doesn't affect him too much.
Baker then also refrains from condemning his protagonist. You don't know until the end whether Mikey is supposed to be good or bad. Of course, he is a good-for-nothing who talks big all the time, but is less talented when it comes to doing something productive. At the same time, he is quite eager and wants to care for others. Even his attempts to turn Strawberry into a porn actress are not the result of oppression, as would be obvious especially with such an age difference. He does not want to take advantage of her at all, but is actually convinced that he is helping her by doing so. Porn in "Red Rocket" is not an embarrassment or something one does out of compulsion. Rather, making them is an expression of a longing for attention and recognition - character traits that Mikey carries with him even after his career has ended.
This will probably not please those who hope to condemn porn and the people who work in it. True, Mikey has trouble getting a job as a result, because potential employers don't feel comfortable with the thought that the employee could possibly be recognised. But that's about it. "Red Rocket" is not a moral film because it doesn't even raise the question of morality. Even when Mikey starts selling drugs for lack of promising alternatives, he becomes neither a monster nor a victim. He somehow slinks through with a mixture of insouciance and charm, drives you crazy and yet is never really bad. This is definitely worth seeing, especially because of the stunning performance by Simon Rex, who has won a few minor awards for this.
The dramedy also has a lot to offer for the eye. The setting of the Texas countryside with its warm, natural colours contrasts sharply with the doughnut shop where Strawberry works, which is reminiscent of the motel from "The Florida Project". There are bright colours that symbolise the big dreams that are sold here. An over-sugared parallel world that is as false as the stories Mikey tells. And yet there is something truthful about "Red Rocket" because, for all its whimsicality, the film makes its characters very human. Baker allows them to simply be, to unfold and to try. This often doesn't work out the way they thought it would, Mikey's stay is one of constant failure. But that's okay, tomorrow is another day.